I think we are wrestling at a very high level right now. We are making mistakes, but that is understandable this early in the year. —Uintah coach Gregg Stensgard
High school wrestling is ramping up across the state, with early season tournaments, such as the Layton, Panguitch and Moab invitationals, already concluded, not to mention this past weekend’s Wasatch Intermountain Duals.
With the introduction of a sixth classification, a first in Utah wrestling, traditional rivalries have shifted and multiple state titles are up for grabs.
Case in point, four of the five defending state champions, Layton, Wasatch, Delta and Altamont, moved up a classification this season. The shifting of powerhouse programs should enable the 2017-18 wrestling season be one of the most thrilling in recent years, or at the very least allow for a few new champions.
When Layton’s Austin Clem emerged victorious against American Fork’s Jacob Rhoten in the 2017 state tournament, held at UVU’s UCCU Center, he clinched the 5A state title for the Lancers, their first in 11 years under head coach John Fager.
Immediately following that victory, Fager noted that the title was “something we have been chasing for a long time. The state title is very elusive and we’ve come close a couple of times, but for whatever reason we didn’t get it done. This year, though this year was special.”
Not only did the Lancers win the state championship, they ended the dominant six-year title run of the Pleasant Grove Vikings, in convincing fashion no less.
It was the end of an era, and the Vikings want revenge.
Per the cumulative votes of 6A wrestling coaches, Pleasant Grove is the favorite to bring home the inaugural 6A state title.
Leading the way is the school’s lone returning state champion, Maika Tauteoli. Tauteoli is considered one of the top 25 wrestlers in the state, per USA Wrestling Utah, and along with fellow state placers William “Cole” Zorn and Oakley Ridge, figures to play a large role in bringing the Vikings' championship ambitions to fruition.
Add in the growth of Harrison Sperry, Jaxon Moore and Kade Zorn, among others, and Pleasant Grove has both the talent and depth to reclaim the state title.
Of course Layton is the defending champion and returns two individual state champs, Terrell Barraclough and Tyson Humphreys, along with the improved Weston Memmott, Cole Faust and Aidan Harris.
Coming in third in preseason rankings was the Fremont Silver Wolves, for good reason.
The Silver Wolves bring back the most experience of any team in the classification, led by state champion Brayden Clark, as well as state placers Tayton Bennett, Colby Bowden and Kegan Leatherow.
Additional returning state champs include Herriman’s Logan Jensen (considered by many to be one of the five best wrestlers in the state), Bingham’s Cole Moody (who boasts the No. 2 ranking on USA Wrestling Utah and is a two-time state champ) and Weber’s Brady Briskey.
If there is a wrestler to watch out for in Utah, it is Box Elder’s Brock Hardy. The senior is as good as they get. Hardy is a three-time state champion, a Freestyle and Greco National All-American and ranked No. 6 in his weight class (142) on FloWrestling. The Nebraska commit, along with fellow Bees state champion Garrett Ricks and state placer Ryan Gunn, give Box Elder three of the finest wrestlers in 5A.
Viewmont, meanwhile, boasts its own trio of elite wrestlers in state champions Shion Abe and William “Taylor” Money and placer Collin Smith, not to mention title contenders Jackson Coyle and Cameron Brown.
Not to be forgotten are the traditionally strong Maple Mountain Golden Eagles and top-10 ranked Brandyn Van Tassell.
“They are a really tough team and they returned a lot of depth,” Viewmont head coach Brandon Ripplinger said of Maple Mountain. “They’ve got the studs but they’ve also got the depth.”
In truth, all three schools have the requisite skill and depth needed to compete for the state title, and yet they are all looking up at the Wasatch Wasps.
The three-time defending 4A champs join the 5A ranks as one of the premier programs in the state, if not the best.
“The (preseason) coaches poll had Wasatch ranked as the No. 1 team, not only in 5A but in the entire state,” Ripplinger said. “They have potentially five or six (individual) state champs.”
Among those are two-time champion Zak Kohler, who may be wrestling as well as anyone at the moment, and fellow champs Stockton O’Brien and D.J. Cohen. The Wasps also boast returning state placers in Sammy Heywood and Seth Gardner.
“If you want to win the state title, (Wasatch) is a team you have to be able to beat,” said Ripplinger.
Aside from those four title contenders, Olympus and Brighton each return a state champion in Isaac Wilcox and Brayden Stevens.
With apologies to Bear River, a frequent champion in the 3A classification, Salem Hills, Mountain Crest, Canyon View and others, the battle for the 4A state title appears destined to be fought between the Uintah Utes and the Payson Lions.
The Utes, coming off a second-place finish at the Layton Invitational (Wasatch took first prize), are already wrestling at a near elite level, according to head coach Gregg Stensgard.
“I think we are wrestling at a very high level right now,” said Stensgard. “We are making mistakes, but that is understandable this early in the year. The kids are responding well to the coaches and we are moving in the right direction.”
Leading the way is returning state champion Gavin Ayotte, as well as the talented Cub Deets, Hayden Boren and Tanner Moon, among others.
“We are going to have a very good wrestler in almost every weight class,” said Stensgard. “We are going to be tough to beat.”
If anyone has a chance it is Payson, a team Stensgard specifically mentioned as the chief threat to the Utes.
The Lions return two state placers in Jacob Ethridge and Wyatt Monroe. Monroe in particular is a favorite to come away with the state title in the 182-pound weight class.
The aforementioned Bears were ranked third in preseason rankings and have a shot at the title, but only if their health improves. Bear River’s only returning state champion is Kaygen Canfield, who suffered an injury during the football season that has continued into the wrestling season.
The other returning champs in the classification are Brady Lowry (Canyon View) and Logan Gustafson (Stansbury), though a total of 11 placers suggest competition for individual state titles will be fierce.
The Juab Wasps got over the hump in 2016, taking down the defending champion Bear River Bears for the 3A state championship. With the return of two-time state champion Gentry Warner, as well as state placers Conner Ingram, Joey Aagard (a former state champ), Talon Mangelson and Kaleb Nybo, the Wasps are well set to repeat, or rather would have been but for the shuffling of classifications.
Instead, the favorite to claim the 3A title is that traditional wrestling powerhouse, the Delta Rabbits.
The defending 2A champs, Delta boasts an impressive amount of state tournament experience, including state champ Bradden Davis and placers Dyllin Broughton, Bowen and Tanner Shields, Jayden Petersen and Jake Jackson.
“Delta is a storied program with a long tradition and a big name,” Juab head coach Joel Holman said.
Not only must the Wasps battle the Rabbits, but also a Morgan Trojans team featuring returning state champions Jarett Jorgensen and Chase Trussell, as well as state placers Antonio Nava and Chris Payne.
“Right now we are predicted (to finish) third,” said Holman. “The goal is still to take state and we actually beat Delta in a dual (two) weekends ago. Hopefully that (win) gives the kids some hope and confidence that they can get it done.”
No other 3A school returns a state champion, although four, including South Summit, Union, San Juan and Emery, bring back a state placer.
With the departure of the two most recent state champions, Delta and South Summit, the 2A state championship would appear to be up for grabs, with North Summit, North Sevier, Beaver and Millard all having as good a chance as any to take home the title.
And yet, as far as the coaches of the classification are concerned, the title favorite is none other than former 1A powerhouse Altamont.
The Longhorns upended the Duchesne Eagles for the 1A title in 2016 and bring back a host of experienced wrestlers.
Mckay Foy, a two-time state champion who is currently considered the 15th best wrestler in Utah, per USU Wrestling Utah, headlines the group, as does fellow state champion Wyatt Jesson.
In addition to that title-winning pair, Altamont boasts state placers Dean and Danny Thompson as well as former Grand County placer Carson Sheets.
If any team is to challenge the Longhorns, it will most likely be the Millard Eagles, thanks to defending champion Van Bray and state placers Slade Sheriff, Kaleb Kelly (a former state champ) and Calun Whitaker.
Defending champs Jace Anderson and Taten Ringel (North Summit), Colby Harper and Stockton Moat (Duchesne), Shawn Sorensen (North Sevier) and Tyce Raddon (Beaver) all are certain to have a say in the season’s proceedings as well.
According to the coaches of 1A wrestling, the season starts and ends with the Monticello Buckaroos. Led by three-time state champion Zac Musselman, ranked in the top 10 in the state, Monticello returns six wrestlers with successful state tournament experience.
In addition to Musselman, Brayson Wilcox returns after a second-place finish last season, as does third-place finishers Matt Beh, Tyler Draper, Thomas Anderson and Gage Wilcox.
No team, on paper at least, boasts equivalent talent or depth to that of Monticello.
If any school is to challenge the Buckaroos' bid for supremacy, it will be either the Panguitch Bobcats or Milford Tigers.
The Bobcats boast two returning state placers in Kaden Beckstead and Zack Julander, as do the Tigers with Karson Wunderlich and Stetson Wright.
Only two other 1A schools return any notable state tournament participants, namely Wayne (Barlow Pace, a third-place finisher) and Whitehorse (Ronni Chico, a third-place finisher).